The Very Rev. Professor John Baillie and the Synod of Otago and Southland soon discovered it was no easy task to organise travel for visitors from Scotland to New Zealand following World War 2. In May 1946 the Church of Scotland confirmed Professor John Baillie as their representative and ‘guest of honour’ at the Otago Centenary celebrations.
Their immediate task was to organise travel arrangements from Scotland to New Zealand. Initially, the bookings were in the hands of the Baillies’ to negotiate from the British end with the assistance of the Rev. Alan Whitelaw, a New Zealand minister visiting Scotland. Frustrated by several months of ‘reaching dead ends’ and the apparent non-availability of early bookings Whitelaw approached the New Zealand High Commissioner, William Joseph Jordan, in January 1947, who informed him that a serious shortage of shipping meant some thousands were on the waiting list.
Although there was still 15 months before the Centenary, the High Commissioner warned Whitelaw that the situation would more than likely worsen under the new arrangements for the assisted-passenger scheme about to be introduced by the New Zealand Government. The bookings for 95% of the allocated passages were handed over to Travel Companies to administer, leaving the remaining 5% the responsibility of the NZ Government ‘to facilitate the movements of big businessmen’, and allocated on application at the Government’s discretion. It would be nigh impossible for them to make any further headway without official input, Whitelaw advised the Committee.
At this point several Church officials in Wellington began communications with the Department of Internal Affairs seeking assistance to obtain a passage from Scotland. With further input from Jordan, the High Commissioner, the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser was alerted to their difficulties. He took a personal interest in the case, requesting the Synod’s centenary programme and information on the extent to which Baillie would be travelling throughout the country. In an air of continuing uncertainty, but with much faith, the Committee began to finalise an itinerary and seek bookings and permits where possible.
To the relief of the organisers, some five months later, in January 1948, a letter from the Prime Minister confirmed the Baillies’ date of arrival and advised them that Professor and Mrs Baillie would be ‘guests of the Government’. This was indeed a surprise, but one of great relief. Peter Fraser, a staunch Presbyterian, no doubt considered this a worthwhile project that fell within the Governments 5% allocation, and one that displayed continuing support between Great Britain and New Zealand in the immediate post war era.
As guests of the Government the Internal Affairs Department took over the travel and accommodation arrangements for the Baillies. The planning Committee had already been confronted with the difficulty of arranging travel between destinations. Petrol shortages meant applications to the Oil Fuel Controller in advance of any long travel with precise reasons for extensions beyond normal use. Much to the Committees’ delight, the Government made available a 5-seater Chrysler Windsor, with the all-important chauffeur, for the total eight week stay, beginning at Lyttelton the point of arrival. They also provided free travel permits on public transport for other invited overseas guests along with ration cards. As an aside, the Minister of Railways also gave approval for reduced rail fares for all representatives attending the Centennial Synod meeting in Dunedin.
One has to admire the patience of Mr. Furlong, the Government Clerk however, as he dealt with the extensive travel arrangements and the many and regular alterations made to the itinerary over several months. Just two weeks prior to the celebrations, for example, the Assembly Clerk noted that Furlong, ‘wasn’t very happy about [the changes] and he hoped there would be no further changes’. The alterations and hotel cancellations kept coming though. In a somewhat cryptic tone Furlong expressed his surprise that as a ‘guest of the Government’ the Baillies were staying one day only in Wellington. ‘It’s a pity’, wrote the Assembly Clerk, ‘but under the circumstances I suppose we can do nothing further about it.’ Peter Fraser however, spent the whole day with the Baillies in Wellington attending both Church services where he was guest preacher. Baillie noted, ‘ Peter Fraser was most kind to us again in Wellington. He loaded us with five books about New Zealand’.
The itinerary placed huge expectations upon Professor and Mrs. Baillie and was obviously exhausting. In a letter from Wanganui he wrote, ‘ the pace is all I can stand-another straw would break the camel’s back.’ By this time they had travelled 4667 kms in the South Island alone, and had addressed 50 meetings including broadcasts, attended numerous civic receptions and met with Presbyteries, parishes and Women’s groups. By the time they reached Auckland to fly to the USA Baillie had given 73 speeches, interviews, broadcasts and sermons.
From the Church’s perspective the extensive tour of Professor Baillie beyond the main centres gave church members a ‘spiritual uplift’ and ‘new life’. People turned out in large numbers to hear one of the great Presbyterian theologians and scholars of the time. In reporting back to the Church of Scotland the Assembly Clerk noted, ‘Dr. Baillie made a very wonderful contribution to the life of our Church and we are in debt to the Church of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh for making him available to us’. The tour of Professor Baillie could be considered an introduction to the new movement that the Presbyterian Church would launch at its 1948 General Assembly that would flower into the New Life Movement of the 1950s.
Although exhausted at the end, they considered the tour ‘an immense success’. Mrs Jewel Baillie wrote, ‘I shall never forget the packed churches and the volume of singing that went up from the congregations – wholehearted and thrilling – I wish our congregations sang with the same abundance.’ One lasting memory was the service for the laying of the foundation stone at the small Hakataramea Church in South Canterbury. ‘I hope’, she wrote, ‘the little community thrives and is blessed’.
Their travels did not end in New Zealand. They then flew across the Pacific, landing at Fiji and Honolulu, where Professor Baillie addressed a large gathering. Professor Baillie continued his visit to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Texas, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Princeton and Chautauqua. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Princeton University and Doctor of Laws by Muhlenberg College. With Mrs. Baillie he returned to Britain by the “Queen Elizabeth,”. Professor Baillie then attended the first General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in late 1948. In 1954 at the World Council of Churches Assembly he was appointed one of the seven Presidents.